Alexa Skill, Conversation Design, Strategy


Project Overview

WaterAid and Hi Mum! Said Dad have partnered on an interactive storytelling skill on Alexa. Designed with a child’s sense of humour in mind, it serves a serious purpose in educating both children and parents about the consequences of having a lack of clean water and toilets in the village of Tsarafangitra.

Business Challenge

Extreme poverty cannot be eradicated without universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene. These basic services are human rights: everyone on our planet needs them to live healthy, dignified and productive lives.

Despite this, water, sanitation and hygiene is something that the Western world consistently undervalues. These issues are so fundamental to our lives but yet fail to evoke the same emotional response as other equally pressing issues of our time such as war and natural disasters.

As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention and WaterAid has certainly needed to get creative when it comes to delivering its message and bringing these issues into public discourse. In fact, the charity has gained a reputation for its original use of digital to frame these issues in a new light and bring the public closer to the challenges faced by people in ways that feel relatable.

Previous examples of innovative engagement include 'Talk to Sellu' a Facebook Messenger Chatbot which tells an interactive story of a farmer and fisherman in Sierra Leone and the ‘Height Calculator’, which provides a stark counterfactual by estimating what your height would have been if you had grown up in a country without proper toilets.

It was against this backdrop that WaterAid asked us to work with them to improve their brand love as well as public understanding of sanitation. Staying true to WaterAid’s need to do things differently, the challenge was to explore voice as a means for achieving these goals. We agreed from the outset that it was important to do this in a way that felt completely natural for the voice platform whilst also living up to WaterAid’s reputation as engaging but purposeful storytellers.


With voice being still being a nascent platform, we started by considering the existing landscape to understand what, if anything, fellow charities are doing as well as looking further afield to get a feel for the general characteristics of successful voice products. This research was used as stimuli for a workshop which brought together the different disciplines across the WaterAid and HMSD teams.

Our conversations around the research revealed that building an educational product would allow us to create something that can:

  • Be fit for purpose on voice considering that games/trivia/storytelling is a very popular category in the voice space
  • Engage the next generation of changemakers around important world issues
  • Augment WaterAid’s educational programme for schools

The concept that we finally decided to take forward was ‘WaterAid Voices’, which was inspired by the penpal tradition of yesteryear. Every day, Alexa, as the user’s new penpal (or should we say voicepal?), delivers a letter from Madagascar, which is one of the many Southern African countries that WaterAid operates in. Each and every letter is unique and proceeds to tell the story of life in Madagascar, covering topics such as Malagasy food, music and wildlife through a conversation with the user.

Whilst the skill was designed with a sense of humour in mind and is a form of entertainment, it also serves a serious purpose in educating the public about the consequences of having a lack of clean water and toilets in the village of Tsarafangitra. We endeavoured to do this in a light touch way without being too overbearing.

We know animal sounds are wildly successful on Alexa

Whilst designing the skill, we drew on a few key pieces of learning from our research to add further creative polish. In our travels, we found that there exist skills dedicated purely to playing animal sounds, which have proven to be hugely successful. In light of this, we weaved in opportunities to play sound clips that would bring Malagasy life to well. We also leveraged Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) to give Alexa more character (such as the ability to whisper or make exclamations) and to further enrich the experience.

Being a skill that is meant to mimic a back and forth conversation, we wanted to avoid any awkward misunderstandings with Alexa. For example, we accounted for user spontaneity by including fun reprompt messages in response to cheeky comebacks to questions. Interlude music was also used in certain instances to allow users time to think or to confer with others about the answers to quiz questions.

WaterAid Voices provides ample opportunity for the public to learn about the issues that WaterAid is tackling through a novel, engaging medium Image credit: vivint


WaterAid Voices went live in the Amazon Skills Store in late January. We will be updating this page in a few months once we have collected some meaningful data.

What the WaterAid Voices skill does represent is a potentially effective means for WaterAid to convey their message to a wider audience, especially considering the rate of adoption of voice in UK households.